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214                                                                                                             B- POLEVOI
straight to the second echelon of their respective divisions
that were holding the defence line here. And every half-
hour an electric train unloaded on the platform crowds of
workers who lived in the suburbs, and peasant women
bringing in milk, fruit, mushrooms and vegetables. For a
while, these noisy crowds flooded the railway station, but
they soon flowed into the square, leaving the station once
again in the sole possession of the military.
In the main hall, stretching right to the ceiling, hung
a huge map of the Soviet-German front. A plump girl in
military uniform was standing on a step-ladder holding a
newspaper with the latest communique of the Soviet In-
formation Bureau and marking the fighting line with a
string attached to pins.
In the lower part of the map, the string turned at a
sharp angle to the right. The Germans were advancing
in the South. They had broken through in the Izyum-
Barvenkovo region. Their Sixth Army had driven a blunt
wedge into the heart of the country and was pointing
towards the blue vein of the Don salient. The girl fastened
the string on the line of the Don. Quite near to it wound
the thick artery of the Volga, with Stalingrad marked
with a large circle, and Kamyshin, indicated by a dot,
above it. It was evident that the enemy wedge which had
struck the Don was driving towards this main artery and
was already near it. In grim silence, a large crowd, over
which the girl on the step-ladder towered, watched the
girl's plump hands changing the position of the pins. A
young soldier with a perspiring face, in a new, as yet
uncreased greatcoat that hung stiffly from his shoulders,
said, mournfully thinking aloud:
"The bastards are pushing hard. ... Look how they are
A tall, lean railwayman with a grey moustache, and
wearing a greasy railwayman's cap, looked down frown-
ingly upon the soldier and growled:
"Pushing, are they? But why are you letting them? Of
course, they'll push if you back away from them! Fine
fighters you are! Look where they've got to! Almost up to
the Volga!" His voice expressed pain and grief, like that
of a father rebuking his son for having made a grave and
unpardonable blunder.